In March 2002, detainees of Australia's Woomera detention centre staged a mass breakout in a spontaneous and desperate bid for freedom. Aided by hundreds of committed social activists protesting Australia's treatment of asylum seekers in mandatory detention, the breakout captured the attention and interest of human rights groups around the globe. At the frontline of the breakout, filmmaker Pip Starr captures the raw emotion and urgency of the event to create a damning indictment of Australia's inhumane immigration policies.
Features interviews with woomera escapees and others who describe the experience of seeking aslylum in a hostile Australia.
Some of the footage has been used in other forums (including SKA TV story Woomera 2002 - recently awarded prize for best news story, National Community Broadcast awards, 2004). This final and most considered edit (with an original classical score composed by Mark Daniel) captures and rekindles the spirit of hope and desperation created by a draconian policy.
Part of the Oceania Indymedia Newsreal 2
Reviewer:penguin pip -
April 24, 2005 Subject:
From the Film Maker
Am pleased to see that the above review recieved the film pretty much as intended. It was never meant to neatly encapsulate and explain all the details. I rather wanted just to reveal the fear and desperation of those detained, and the courage and commitment of those on the outside.
I wanted no comfortable summations that would leave the audience 'informed' and comfortable but to leave them with emotions and questions.
But I would like to give a little more info on the event for any who are interested.
The breakout from the Woomera detention centre, in the desert of Central South Australia, happened over the easter weekend in 2002.
Over fourty detainees excaped, of which about ten managed to make it to freedom. A few of these people have been captured since. Some of the people who were deported after the escape are said to have been killed since being returned to the countries that they fled from.
Australia is the only country in the world to practice the mandatory detention of assylum seekers. This includes children and the mentally ill. Suicide attempts and other acts of self harm (as glimpsed in the film) and stress related illnesses are common.
Some of the detainees and many of the escapees from Woomera have been in detntion for 2 years or more. Some detainees have been there for much longer, the longest having been inside for 6 years. Some assylum seekers can not be returned to the countries they fled from, as thier governments will not accept them. So they rot in concentration camps. No crime. Little access the outside world. No legal status. As 'Moopsie' (an escapee and the voice of the film) says - "you can't go back, and you can't get out."
Many people have criticised our government's policy on assylum seekers - Individuls, NGO's and UN bodies, particularly for the detention of children. but the Australian people seem not to care. We are all falling for the fear generators of our warmongering government and media.
Having a site like this to distubute through is an awesome thing. The chanting of 'the whole world is watching', in the doco is a rather sad irony. The whole world wasn't watching, (though this was a big media story here in Australia when it happened,) but at least through places like this we can communicate without first having to pay homage to the alter of corporate interest.
The movement against mandatory detention continues, but with support from both sides of parliament, there have been no major changes.
Woomera closed down last year, when the Baxter Detention Centre opened, a more high tech, escape proof concentration camp, a few hundred km to the South, in Port Augusta.
It seems I can't submit this without puting a rating. Not wishing to drop the average I'll be immodest and agree with the last person, as acknowlegement of those in the film who creatd the event.
April 23, 2005 Subject:
"The whole world's watching!"
This film is a very capable stand-alone piece depicting a gloriously liberating escape from a jail in the middle of a desert. The film gives none of the context that the accompanying text does, but it doesn't need explanation of place and time and reason to be a powerful piece of film.
Edited as an expressionistic documentary, we see color-saturated shots of wires and bars. A middle-eastern narrator speaks over the shots. Far away, people in the middle of this vast, barren wilderness beat on the bars attempting to escape. An activist group pulls down a fence and charges the compound. Throughout, time does not flow strictly linearly, but the activists help the prisoners scale the barred walls and give them pads to help them over the barbed wire.
The police are called out, and the situation gets more desperate and more violent as they advance. Meanwhile, a large bar is introduced to pry the fence apart. As part of the fence breaks open, prisoners come climbing out of and along the wall, jumping into the crowd of demonstrators. One is given a flag and runs away in ecstasy while a woman shouts, "The whole world's watching!" to the police that are trying to stop it all.
At this point, I'd like to put politics aside and say this piece works as a portrait of the human spirit. I don't know all the details, and this film isn't willing to give many, so I don't know whether these people deserved liberation, or whether the police and the activists were justified or unjustified regardless. I'd love to say that the woman was right and that the whole world was watching, but it's simply not the case. I never saw news coverage of this event, nor did it evidently galvanize anyone anywhere to any kind of action. How unfortunate, though, because this is a fine piece of visceral filmmaking.
Altogether, the storming of Woomera makes a good short, whether anyone's actions were justified or not. Viewed without the political explanations behind it, but knowing that it is real and did happen somewhere, makes the narration, the setting, and the raw human emotions very memorable.